Picture a late spring evening in France, at a chateau owned by someone with a mission to create an atmosphere that reflects inspiration, inside and out. Vikki Fuller, an artist from British Columbia, found herself at one such place, which she tells us about in this captivating tale of an artist residency.
Have you had the pleasure of participating in an artist residency? If so, how did it inspire you and your work? Tell us about it in the comments below!
Yours in art,
The Artist Residency & French Chateau Experience
by Vikki Fuller
It was a late spring evening and the first night of the artist residency at the beautiful Chateau d’Orquevaux, in France.
Only last summer I had come across the most beautiful posting on Instagram and a captivating image of the chateau. Incredible things can be done if we are simply committed to making them happen. So, I applied to the call for this artist residency. In January, I was overjoyed to receive a congratulations and acceptance letter from Ziggy Attias of the Chateau d’Orquevaux, saying that I had been selected among applicants from 25 countries all over the world and awarded the artist-in-residence grant, which would be applied to the residency!
Located in the Champagne region of France, in the Ardennes, the two- to four-week chateau residency is about selecting artists who desire to grow and continue in their journey of artistic expression, all while exploring ideas and looking for adventure. The Chateau d’Orquevaux artist residency encourages both a personal experience and the creative process.
It was no surprise when the champagne bottles started to pop on the first evening, and a platter of French local cheese was presented to begin our welcoming dinner. A group of us gathered on the front steps as the sun turned to a pink fading glow over the distant hills. In the kitchen, others gathered in preparation for a communal dinner around the 18-foot-long candlelit table. This is how we enjoyed most of our evenings at the chateau. After a long but creative day of painting, it was nice to enjoy casual conversation about art and life … and listen to Ziggy’s colorful stories about his dreams and visions for the future artists of Chateau d’Orquevaux. He is absolutely passionate about the chateau and his resident artists; you begin to feel like a family.
One of the things I learned from the residency, far from home and my daily life as an artist, was that the absence of home can give you a much clearer vision. Undistracted, your daily practice becomes a place full of creativity and solitude. I arrived with a goal to create something out of my normal practice, to return home with not only three large canvases but a number of 8 x 10 painting sketches that I would complete over the next few months, and be able to create a new body of work with.
Mornings began early for me, and I enjoyed awakening to the sounds of many songbirds and the soulful ringing of village church bells echoing over the tranquil hillsides. I would often sit in the quiet solitude and observe the hushed stillness, the patterns occurring in nature right outside my window, from cherry blossoms and buds on the trees to the bright patchwork of spring meadows, country roads dotted with wooden fence posts. I could make visual notes about what I needed to accomplish for certain paintings, or sometimes begin a new canvas and set down ideas and sketches that I woke up from dreaming about, excited to begin. Or maybe I would go for a long walk down one of the endless farm roads, before the fresh croissants and baguettes arrived, as they would every morning.
The spirit of solace that I find essential to my work as an artist was perfect for creation at the chateau. Nature ultimately informs my paintings, and there was plenty of that with rolling green pastures, fruit trees, a lake, boathouse, gatehouses, and best of all for me … Charolais cows happily grazing with their spring calves.
Inside the chateau are subtle clues to the past and comfortable grandeur of chateau life, which I found in every corner. It really felt like home, with plenty of rooms to sprawl out amongst the eight artists. Massive shuttered windows everywhere fill the interiors, as light poured in. Window views opened up to vast landscapes for studio painting or just quiet reverie. Every view beckoned a painting. There were no distractions from the life that we know at home, except for the heart-stopping beauty each time I looked outside. Everything had been thought of, from the luscious chateau bedrooms, comfortable beds, and bathrooms to the period antique furnishings which Ziggy, the owner and gracious host, has seemingly poured his heart into collecting from the neighboring village brocantes and markets.
Upstairs in the chateau, a flight of sunlit wooden stairs led to the artist studios, complete with extra lights, easels, tables … and everything my inner muse needed to begin creating. The chateau is as such “an environment for the artist in their quest for growth and personal expression.’’
One day, just outside my open studio doors, I noticed Ziggy on his tractor carrying two 14-foot cherry trees. He was planting the first pair of some 30 cherry trees that one day will be planted all along the drive toward the south gatehouse. It will be beautiful! Hearing Ziggy’s excitement at the very idea, that one day these same trees would be a mass of pink cloud-like foliage and blossoms, gave me an idea for a painting. The next morning I put my camera high up into the tops of the branches of a cherry tree, and took a picture looking back towards the chateau. One day … someday, this is what I envision for the cherry tree lane today.
“A tree is known by its fruit; a man by his deeds. A good deed is never lost; he who sows courtesy reaps friendship, and he who plants kindness gathers love.” ~Saint Basil
We all eventually get down to the art of eating, and in France cooking is a serious art form. Marie in the kitchen is a master. Her fresh-baked fruit tarts, crème brûlée, and petite chocolate molten cakes were not only a delight but works of art.
Some evenings after lingering around the dinner table, the artists would pull up chairs around a well-laid bonfire. With meditative thoughts, perhaps the sound of an accompanying guitar, the dark inky blue starlit night would magically settle over the chateau … gathering us all in celebrating this most beautiful time together.
And so to bed…
Vikki Fuller’s painterly oils explore the fragile beauty of the human relationship with nature. They are potent expressions of the peace and mystery of the natural world inspired by her love of nature and her island home. Through emotive dream-like landscapes, animal, and character portraits, Vikki has a way of bringing her impressions into the heart of the viewer. Vikki paints from her home studio, and her works are held in private and public collections in Canada, the United States, the West Indies, and Europe. “My love for painting and nature are always with me,” she says. “Inspired by nature, I paint, sketch, and take photos that I feel capture the essence of what moves me. I refer to these studies when I am back in the studio. I like to think these intimate perspectives will stir an emotional response for you, the viewer.”
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